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Appian's History of Rome: The Syrian Wars (36-40)


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of Appian's book on the Syrian War, or Syriaca, have also come down to us. It deals with the war that the Romans and the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great fought in 192-188, but also discusses, as an appendix, the history of the Seleucid Empire. Therefore, the Syriaca is a valuable source for the history of the ancient Near East between the reign of Alexander the Great and the Roman conquest.

The translation was made by Horace White; notes and additions in green by Jona Lendering.


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[36] After he had gained this success, Domitius hastened to the camp of [king] Antiochus [III the Great] and overpowered the forces guarding it. In the meantime Antiochus, after pursuing for a long distance that part of the Roman legionaries opposed to him, came to the Roman camp, where he found no guard, either of cavalry or light-armed troops (for Domitius, thinking that the river afforded sufficient protection, had not provided any). But a military tribune, the prefect of the camp, hastened to meet him with a body of fresh troops and checked his advance, and the fugitives took new courage from their comrades and rallied.

The king returned haughty as one who had gained a victory, knowing nothing of what had taken place elsewhere. When Attalus, the brother of [king]Eumenes[II Soter of Pergamon], with a large body of horse, threw himself in his way, Antiochus easily cut through them, but he disregarded the enemy, who took to flight before they had received much damage. When he discovered his defeat and saw the field of battle strewn with the bodies of his own men, horses, and elephants, and his camp already captured, he fled precipitately, arriving at Sardes about mid-night.

From Sardes he went to the town Celaenae, which they call Apamea, whither he had been informed that his son had fled. On the following day he retreated to Syria, leaving officers in Celaenae to collect the remains of his army.

He also sent ambassadors to the consul [Lucius Cornelius Scipio] to treat for peace. The latter was engaged in burying his own dead, stripping those of the enemy, and collecting prisoners. Of the Roman dead there were found twenty-four knights and 300 foot-soldiers from the city, being mostly those whom Antiochus had slain. Eumenes lost only fifteen of his horse. It is believed that the loss of Antiochus, including prisoners, was 50,000. It was not easy to number them on account of their multitude. Some of his elephants were killed and fifteen were captured.




[37] After this brilliant victory, to many people quite unexpected (for it did not seem at all likely that the smaller force, fighting in a strange land, would overcome a much larger one so completely, and especially the Macedonian phalanx which was then in a high state of discipline and valor, and had the reputation of being formidable and invincible), the friends of Antiochus began to blame him for his rashness in quarreling with the Romans and for his want of skill and his bad judgment from the beginning. They blamed him for giving up the Chersonesus and Lysimacheia with their arms and apparatus without making any defense against the enemy, and for leaving the Hellespont unguarded, when even the Romans would not have expected to force a passage easily. They accused him of his latest blunder in rendering the strongest part of his army useless by its cramped position, and for putting his reliance on the promiscuous multitude of raw recruits rather than on men who had become skilled in military affairs by long training, and had been hardened by many wars to the highest state of valor and endurance.

While these discussions were going on among the friends of Antiochus, the Romans were in high spirits and considered no tasks too hard for them now, under favor of the gods and their own courage, for it brought them great confidence in their own good fortune that such a small number, meeting the enemy on the march, in the first battle, in a foreign country, should have overcome a much greater number, composed of so many peoples, with all the royal preparations, including valiant mercenaries and the renowned Macedonian phalanx, and the king himself, ruler of this vast empire and surnamed the Great, all in a single day. It became a common saying among them, "There was a king - Antiochus the Great!"


Portrait bust of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
 P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus
(Musei Capitolini)

[38] While the Romans were thus congratulating themselves, the consul gave audience to the ambassadors of Antiochus, his brother, Publius [Cornelius Scipio Africanus], having recovered his health and returned from Elae. These wanted to know on what terms Antiochus could be a friend of the Roman people. To them Publius made the following reply: "The grasping nature of Antiochus has been the cause of his present and past misfortunes. While he was the possessor of a vast empire, which the Romans did not object to, he seized Coele-Syria, which belonged to [the Egyptian king] Ptolemy [IV Philopator], his own relative and our friend. Then he invaded Europe, which did not concern him, subjugated Thrace, fortified the Chersonesus, and rebuilt Lysimacheia. He passed thence into Greece and took away the liberty of the people whom the Romans had lately freed, and kept on this course till he was defeated in battle at Thermopylae, and put to flight. Even then he did not forego his grabbing propensity, for, although frequently beaten at sea, he did not seek peace until we had crossed the Hellespont. Then he scornfully rejected the conditions offered to him, and, again collecting a vast army and uncounted supplies, he continued the war against us, determined to come to an engagement with his betters, until he plunged into this great calamity. We might properly impose a severer punishment on him for his obstinacy in fighting us so persistently, but we are not accustomed to abuse our own prosperity or to aggravate the misfortunes of others. We will offer him the same conditions as before, adding a few which will be equally for our own and his future advantage. He must abandon Europe altogether and all of Asia this side of the Taurus, the boundaries to be fixed hereafter; he shall surrender all the elephants he has, and such number of ships as we may prescribe, and for the future keep no elephants and only so many ships as we allow; must give twenty hostages, whom the consul will select, and pay for the cost of the present war, incurred on his account, 500 Euboic talents down and 2500 more when the Senate ratifies the treaty; and 12,000 more during twelve years, each yearly installment to be delivered in Rome. He shall also surrender to us all prisoners and deserters, and to Eumenes whatever remains of the possessions he acquired by his agreement with Attalus, the father of Eumenes. If Antiochus accepts these conditions without guile we will grant him peace and friendship subject to the Senate's ratification."

Coin of Antiochus V Eupator.
Antiochus, son of Antiochus

[39] All the terms offered by Scipio were accepted by the ambassadors. That part of the money which was to be paid down, and the twenty hostages, were furnished. Among the latter was Antiochus, the younger son of Antiochus.

The Scipios and Antiochus both sent messengers to Rome. The Senate ratified their acts, and a treaty was written carrying out Scipio's views, a few things being added or made plain that had been left indefinite. The boundaries of the dominions of Antiochus were to be the two promontories of Calycadnus and Sarpedonium, beyond which he should not sail for purposes of war. He should have only twelve war-ships for the purpose of keeping his subjects under control, but he might have more if he were attacked. He should not recruit mercenaries from Roman territory nor entertain fugitives from the same, and the hostages should be changed every third year, except the son of Antiochus. This treaty was engraved on brazen tablets and deposited in the Capitol (where it was customary to deposit such treaties) [188 BCE], and a copy of it was sent to Manlius Vulso, Scipio's successor in the command.[1]




He administered the oath to the ambassadors of Antiochus at Apamea in Phrygia, and Antiochus did the same to the tribune, Thermus, who was sent for this purpose. This was the end of the war between Antiochus the Great and the Romans, and some thought that it was by reason of the favor extended by Antiochus to Scipio's son that it went no farther.



[40] [187] When [Publius Cornelius] Scipio returned, some persons accused him of this, and two tribunes of the people brought a charge of corruption and betrayal of the public interest against him. He made light of it and scorned the accusation, and as his trial was set for the day which happened to be the anniversary of his victory over Carthage, he sent victims for sacrifice to the Capitol in advance of his coming, and then made his appearance in court clad in festive garments instead of the mournful and humble garb customary to those under accusation, whereby he made a profound impression on all and predisposed them favorably as to a high-minded citizen conscious of his own rectitude.

When he began to speak he made no mention of the accusation against him, but detailed the events of his life, what he had done, the wars he had waged for his country, how he had carried on each, and how often he had been victorious. It delighted the listeners to hear this grand discourse. When he came to the overthrow of Carthage he was roused to the highest pitch of eloquence and filled the multitude, as well as himself, with noble rage, saying, "On this very day, o citizens, I won the victory and laid at you feet Carthage, that had lately been such an object of terror to you. Now I am going up to the Capitol to offer the sacrifice appointed for the day. As many of you as love your country join me in the sacrifice, which is offered for your own good."

Having finished his speech he went to the Capitol, having made no allusion to the charge against him. The crowd followed him, including most of the judges, with joyful acclamations, which were continued while he was performing the sacrifice. The accusers were nonplused and did not dare to call him to trial again, as that was to no purpose, or to charge him with demagogism, because they knew that his whole life had been above the reach of suspicion or calumny.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Syrian wars   :   part nine





Note 1:
This treaty is known as the Peace of Apamea.




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